Parties' Flawed Stances And Failures: Nandalal Tiwari

While the political and moral deadline for promulgate the new constitution by all the political forces represented in the Constituent Assembly (CA) is just four days away, the major political parties are still struggling to find a meeting  point on the long-standing contentious issues. It is unlikely that the ruling and the opposition parties, which are grouped into two opposing blocks with regard to the disputed issues, will forge consensus even in the remaining days and send a positive message that they will eventually produce a consensual constitution a little later than January 22, the deadline they themselves set.


It is undoubtedly a frustrating situation for the people who have already bore the brunt of the opposition's strikes and will have to undergo the same kind of annoying days as long as the two opposing blocks continue with their present strategy.


Key issues

Definitely, this painful situation is the outcome of the failures of both the ruling and opposition parties to find a common ground on the differences due to their flawed stances on some key issues to be incorporated in the new constitution. Issues of federalism, particularly, the number and names of the federal states to be carved, form of government, electoral system and judiciary that failed the parties during the four years of the first CA have again failed them in meeting the first deadline of this second CA, whose tenure is also for four years. They are supposed to come up with a constitution through broader political agreement, an agreement at least among the political forces of the historic people's movement of 2006.


Even during the first CA, the parties had set deadlines for themselves by making a CA calendar of events or activities and extended the deadline through consensus time and again. The first CA which had two-year term originally was extended for four yours by amending the interim constitution before the Supreme Court ruled against further extension through constitutional amendment. Every time the deadline approached, they would intensify their dialogue but would come up with the same old story that they were near consensus and needed more time to hold discussion and reach an agreement. Thus they would make a plausible excuse and extend the deadline until all the four years of the CA were used up.


Constitutionally, the term of the present CA is also for four years. But politically its term should be understood to be expiring on January 22 because of the deadline the parties themselves set to promulgate the constitution. The parties had set the deadline as per the promises they had made to the people in the course of the second, legally 'the other,' election to the CA. With the consensus of all the political parties in the CA, a calendar of events of the constitution-making sovereign body with a target to promulgate the new constitution by January 22 was endorsed by the CA.


But unlike in the past, this time around the major parties are not going to extend the deadline. The ruling parties, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML as well as others, are assertive that the new constitution should be promulgated within the deadline even if it meant adopting, what the CA chair has been saying, a fast track approach should there be no consensus. On the other hand, the opposition parties, UCPN-Maoist and Madhes-based parties, are bent on blocking all efforts to promulgate the new constitution without their consent.


The opposition has already launched protest programmes and is likely to announce more of them if the ruling parties continue with their strategy to go through the set processes of the CA or adopt a fast track approach to promulgate the constitution. As this is the first deadline and the parties have started consultations with the head of state, the president, it is most likely that they will ultimately forge agreement to extend the deadline. In fact, that will be a wiser decision for both, if an immediate confrontation is to be averted.


Even then, the parties must amend their flawed stances if they want a constitution through broader consensus (within the next deadline if they agree on it). The opposition parties must give up their stance on naming the provinces along ethnic lines. The ruling parties must accept a directly elected head of government or the prime minister. If they do this much, their differences on federalism and form of government, the two thorniest issues will be solved. Once these two issues are settled, the remaining disputes on the electoral system and judiciary can be settled, and the parties have almost come to agreement on these.


It is clear by now that the main dispute is on naming the federal states, not the number as such as both the blocks are ready to compromise. In this sense, the ruling parties have a greater responsibility in showing flexibility in accepting a directly elected executive head. This is so because they will be credited for being able to promulgate the new constitution, and a directly elected executive head will also prevent frequent changes in government in the future as the parliament will be a hung one for many years to come due to the mixed electoral system. The ruling parties must know that they cannot adopt the type of governance system that does not match the electoral system in place.   


Peace is the objective

No doubt, the remaining four days will be very decisive. They will at least decide the course of politics for the immediate future, at least for some months, if not the future course of politics. They may as well indicate whether the upcoming months will be peaceful or disorderly. People want the upcoming days, months or years to be peaceful. But for that to happen, the parties must compromise now on their flawed stances to ensure that the new constitution is promulgated through consensus by the deadline. Any constitution promulgated on the strength of a two-thirds majority, which the ruling parties are seeking, will only invite unnecessary conflict. The ruling parties must understand that the constitution is for ensuring peace, so any constitution made at the cost of possible peace will be pointless.

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